YOUR LIBIDO WILL DO THE LOOKING

"In the Land of Retinal Delights" by Robert Williams
“In the Land of Retinal Delights” by Robert Williams

We’re at a cultural moment struggling to find our way out of false dilemmas: action-reaction, domination-submission, high-low, either-or … they’re all two faces of the same coin. What’s the third thing? What’s the next-order idea? The “and” that changes the conversation completely?

In art, look to Robert Williams’ “Rubberneck Manifesto,” a profoundly honest perspective that gets to the psychic reality of experiencing art in our times. No more high and low. Just what speaks to your eye, mind and soul.

I quote and re-quote the bolded bits below. First published in 1989, it’s more relevant than ever.

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RUBBERNECK MANIFESTO by Robert Williams

What is the worth of observation? Beyond the practical use of the eye for functioning successfully in everyday life what are these values of simply seeing interesting things and enshrining them as art?

Nietzsche saw art as man’s struggle against negative social forces by use of the imagination, which he considered a product of pure ego. Art for him was the highest form of clear lucid thought, a tool for the good. Schopenhauer envisioned art as a device of pleasure. Tolstoy viewed art as propaganda and Oscar Wilde held to a doctrine of “art makes life,” meaning art is sometimes more real than reality.

But there exists another factor and here is where I state my dictum, this is the act of simply being attracted to something visually, base curiosity! The purest form of art is to give way to simple visual interest. To look at what you find yourself driven to see. Higher notions of art tend to confine art with lofty moral restrictions. When art is passed off as a quasi-religion which can only be administered and interpreted by a special-order of priestly elites, the system invariably stifles imagination — even when the art is as liberal as blobs, slashes and spatters. Art that has to serve as the instrument of artistic revolution is limited by having to react to a greater force in a continual hope of some overthrow, hence becoming the tool of reaction. Even the great revolt is enslaving.

But when all predetermined prejudices are momentarily set aside and you are one of the many at the scene of the horrible accident your libido will do the looking. Something dead in the street commands more measured units of visual investigation than 100 Mona Lisas. It isn’t what you like; it’s what the fuck you want to see! Art is not the slave of decoration. Hail the voyeur, the only honest connoisseur!!!

from Visual Addiction: The Art of Robert Williams, San Francisco: Last Gasp 1989

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Robert Williams Studio

Watch the animated Dream Detective series on YouTube.

One thought on “YOUR LIBIDO WILL DO THE LOOKING

  1. Something tells me Bob Dylan would really like this quote: “Art that has to serve as the instrument of artistic revolution is limited by having to react to a greater force in a continual hope of some overthrow, hence becoming the tool of reaction. Even the great revolt is enslaving.”

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